The night before Christmas

The night before Christmas
(after Randall Jarrell)

The blue & white of clouds, of sky,
the green of grass & willows -
although of course there’s usually
not much grass under willows ...
It ought to be a quiet place
It ought to be a quiet place with
the river redolent as it always is in fairy tales,
redolent of so many things: the splintered
fragments of half-forgotten dreams,
the night before the night before Christmas
as Jarrell said, would have said, actually said,
& the days, all those days after the night
before the night ...

Not that it matters - that nothing’s silent,
nothing’s still. The noise of course,
the noise is principally not there
under the willows but in your head:
a clamour of voices, the perpetual sound
of people talking, each somehow striving
to be heard above the rest, to be heard
& understood - so many of them,
so many before & after the night before
the night after ...

your stockings lying under the window
when they should be over the fireplace.
A tinsel twist of lights & coloured paper
drifts round the room, beneath the willows.
They’re becoming - the lights & coloured paper,
drifts of tinsel - they’re becoming something
they’re not: the thousand & one nights
of Scheherazade - becoming the fabled hare
& tortoise, a wily fox waiting for the lights
to go out in the farmhouse . . .

It’s the night before the night before Christmas
& this is a quiet place - the willows & river
redolent as they are always in fables -
in fairy tales ...


‘The night before Christmas’, from Summer in the Cote D’Azur (HeadworX, 2003), © Alistair Paterson 2003, used by permission of the author. Recording from the Aotearoa New Zealand Poetry Sound Archive 2004.

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